Raaper, R. (2018). Students’ unions and consumerist policy discourses in English higher education.
Critical Studies in Education (Online First).
This article centres on the recent Higher Education and Research Act 2017 in England and the consultation documents leading to the legislation. I will start by arguing that the reform promotes consumerist understanding of students. Guided by Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis, I will further explore the ways in which five students’ unions from England and their sabbatical officers understand and respond to the consumerist policy discourses. The unions’ official responses to the government’s consultation demonstrated a strong opposition to the reform, particularly against the tuition fee increase and metrics used to measure teaching quality. The follow-up interviews with sabbatical officers, however, highlighted that this opposition can often be fragmented by consumerist counterarguments. The interviewees emphasised consumer rights as benefiting students and the unions. The differences between the written and verbal discourses will be discussed, and the reasons for a lack of consistency in the participants’ discourses questioned in relation to their relationship with the university management and wider student population they represent.
KEYWORDS: Consumerism, critical discourse analysis, higher education, student politics, students’ unions